Saturday, April 04, 2015

(Jump Off The Page Title)

The only reasonable name for this post is "Nigger Nose," but I didn't want the traffic that would generate.  My motto is usually any attention is good attention, but not in this case.

Rogers Ledge, way up north in NH, above the Lakes Region, above even the White Mountains and well into the Great Gulf, used to be called "Nigger Nose" in 1934, according to the USGS survey* map. Strangely, it wasn't called that four years earlier. Usually that sort of change of embarrassing name flows in the other direction.  The USGS didn't name these things, of course.  They just wrote down what the locals told them.  It never occurred to me until now that there might be dispute and disagreement about that.  Folks on the east side of a mountain might call that little hump over there one thing, folks on the west might call it another.

I am not familiar with the topography in question, nor at what angle it must be viewed to deserve the racial name, and I'm not going to try, because I'm sure it would irritate me.  I don't go northwest out of Berlin all that often anyway.  There are two of NH's 4000-footers nearby, Cabot and Waumbek, and it's nearly 3000' itself - there's a good trail to it, apparently - so it must get climbed.  Great views, they say.  I'm more interested in the name.  That far north in NH is not a place where one would expect any sort of familiarity, let alone expertise, in the matter of African-American nose shapes.  Working from photographs, I suppose, or more likely, cartoons. Or what some other guy told you. I can't find anything on the internet that references the name and whether there was any controversy about it.  Most likely, the racist name just slowly dropped out of use as decent people refused to use it. If I knew there was a good story behind it I might try and get ahold of other old maps, but I'm betting not. Just an ugly little reminder of how people used to talk quite off-handedly.

*The UNH library site for historical USGS topos of NY and New England is a quite marvelous place to get lost.  I can figure out which year my grandfather built his farm in Westford and when he put in the chicken coop by looking at the maps.  I can see where long-defunct roads one went and when they put in the secondary highways.


JMSmith said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog for a few years, but never before had occasion to comment. I am geography professor, so am naturally interested in place names, however the hypothesis I'm going to advance about NN in northern NH is merely a guess. Given its location near the Canadian border, it may have once had a French name. Looking through some old dictionaries, I see that the word piton once meant both "nose" and "peak," although this is not a translation that on-line translators recognize. It is possible that NN began life as piton noir, and was later rather freely anglicized as NN. I should add as a further caveat, that my high school French teacher said I was the worst student she had had in a long and disappointing career, so my linguistic analysis is not altogether reliable.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Canadian border? Heck, Berlin is French-Canadian with a handful of Swedes, and that's only a few miles away. In view, probably. Your hypothesis is credible.

I have a cousin who is J M Smith, BTW. James Maurice (pronounced "Morris," because it was important to some of our crew to make everyone _quite_ aware that we _weren't_ French). Hydro engineer for the Dept of Interior out west, last I knew.

jaed said...

I quote "French nègre is a 16c. borrowing from Spanish negro." So now I'm wondering whether the word shifted by the same process as the Italian "negro" shifted in the south, via slurring and pronunciation differences. There's less difference from the French version than from the Spanish.

I'm also wondering whether there's any plausible French word that sounds like "nose" and might have ended up as English "nose" via folk etymology.

RichardJohnson said...

Regarding NE geographical names, I am reminded of the road near where I grew up that was called Blahuziack Road, a polysyllabic Slavic name which most WASPs couldn't pronounce. [my "phonetic" spelling from memory is most likely not correct.] In return trips to NE I noticed that the name of the road got changed to a one syllable English language word which everyone could readily pronounce.